What you really need to know
There it is, the little red circle nagging you from your WordPress dashboard. Time for another update. You’ve probably seen this a few times already this year, but the most recent update to 5.6 is a major release.
Whether you’ve already updated or not, I’ll go over what’s new, what’s changed and what will actually affect your day-to-day blogging and site maintenance.
What’s not changing
I like to start here, in case you’re gripping the edge of your desk wondering if your whole life is about to turn upside-down because you have to relearn everything again (I’m looking at you, Gutenberg).
The short answer is no, you’ll be fine. If you have already become accustomed to using blocks, then you can just create new posts and pages like you’ve been doing. If you’re still using that Classic Editor block, you might want to give my Gutenberg post a read.
What’s really new in 5.6, then?
According to the 5.6 welcome page (which you can access again any time by visiting http://yourdomainURL.com/wp-admin/about.php), there is greater layout flexibility. They’ve added single column blocks, the ability to use mixed widths and columns, full-width headers and videos in cover blocks (previously you could only use images).
There are more block patterns, which if you haven’t used them before really help streamline your workflow. If you frequently repeat layouts on new pages or posts, it’s handy.
This is kind of a big deal, in my opinion. You can now upload subtitles and captions to your videos directly in the block editor. I haven’t tested this yet, but I plan to and will likely write a separate post about it. I’ll also be talking to some of my WordPress dev friends who specialize in accessibility to find out their thoughts and share them with you.
Twenty Twenty-One Theme
From the welcome page, it sure looks pretty. Lots of pastels in the color palette. Basic WordPress themes are traditionally simple, which makes it easy to get up and running right away. But if you’ve already had your site designed and running for a while, this won’t really matter to you.
I’ve heard from a lot of designers that they hate auto updates and I have to agree. In WordPress, I’m not fond of auto anything. If you’ve ever had one little plugin update make your whole site go wonky, you know what I’m talking about here. So if you didn’t specifically update something and your site goes down, troubleshooting will take much longer than necessary.
I don’t want to scare you away from auto updates if that’s your thing. The number of times an update has borked up my site is pretty low. Just keep in mind that if something goes gazoo and you didn’t do anything, check your plugins first.
Do I really have to upgrade to 5.6?
Hey, I know you. You’re still three iPhone updates behind everyone else. And I get it. Why does everything have to keep changing? The truth is, to keep your site secure and running efficiently, you really should update it frequently. Does it have to be just as the clock strikes midnight? Of course not, and your site won’t turn into a pumpkin. But you should get comfortable with updating at least a couple of weeks after a release.
There are some new features which make this qualify as a major release, but overall I would say the average blogger won’t notice most of them. You can go about your day-to-day, posting as usual and creating new content without accessing any of the new features in 5.6. So take a breath, you’re fine.
Leave a comment below with any WordPress-related questions you have. I always respond like a real human.